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Construction continues for some, not others

Hotels such as the Saranac Waterfront Lodge, being built on the shore of Lake Flower in Saranac Lake, were exempted by local governments from state-imposed construction restrictions amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Through an exception in an executive order deeming hotels “essential infrastructure,” the local government allowed construction to continue. No one appeared to be working on the site when this photo was taken in April, however. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Tools sit idle across New York as construction slows in order to build social defenses against the coronavirus.

Some contractors are continuing with one-man jobs. Others are temporarily closing up shop. Meanwhile, construction crews working on utilities, affordable housing, public-sector projects and other jobs deemed “essential” are continuing to work, while following health guidelines.

Saranac Lake and Lake Placid are including hotels in this list of essential projects. Executive order 202.6 dictates which businesses are and are not subject to workforce reductions due to other executive orders. Hotels and places of accommodation are deemed “essential infrastructure” by this order, and so local governments are allowing construction on hotel infrastructure to continue.

When the order came from the state on March 30, town and village code enforcement officers in the Tri-Lakes area contacted their lists of contractors to let them know. They said most have complied with the order, and they haven’t ticketed anyone.

Tupper Lake village Code Enforcement Officer Peter Edwards said there have been three crews he’s told to stop work or move to one-person jobs, including one doing non-essential roof work on a home. He said if it is emergency work — like if the roof was leaking — it would be deemed essential.

Also, unfinished jobs that pose a safety risk are allowed to continue.

The construction of a new municipal electric garage in Tupper Lake is also continuing, as government jobs are considered essential.

Lake Placid village Code Enforcement Officer Mike Orticelle said he received one compliant about hotel construction, but the work is allowed because hotel construction has been deemed essential.

Orticelle said some Lake Placid contractors had already laid off their crews to be on the safe side during the outbreak.

“Quite frankly, some of them have expressed that their employees are scared of contracting the virus and bringing it back to their families,” Orticelle said.

This order has not been easy for many contractors, though.

In Saranac Lake, town of Harrietstown Code Enforcement Officer Todd David said this is hardest on small “father-son” companies. Edwards in Tupper Lake agreed.

“Some of them are a little upset,” he said.

He said some contractors are trying to get spring work done for summer residents.

He said the state gave a one-worker exception, so jobs that can be done by oneself can continue.

“There’s a lot that one man can do,” Edwards said.

Clint Hollingsworth, a Tupper Lake village board trustee and owner of Hollingsworth Carpentry & Renovation, said he feels the one-person job site limit is “extreme.”

“In construction you really should have two guys on a job for safety reasons,” he said.

He said his seven crew members have been laid off and are applying for unemployment benefits right now, but if the limit is raised to a two-person job site, they could get back to business as usual.

“If we were allowed to have two guys to work, I think it’s fair to say that my crew, we would all be working,” Hollingsworth said. “I get that we’re trying to rid this horrible virus that is literally plaguing the world, but I think that at least allowing certain fields to trickle and ease up on the restrictions would help.”

In the North Country, he said, many of his job sites are remote, and he wondered if restrictions could be lifted for upstate New York. He mentioned that the state order references job site elevators as a problem area. Up here, he said he is more likely to be working out of a boat than an elevator.

Hollingsworth said he has a financial cushion because his business is well established, but as an employer, he cannot apply for unemployment. He said he is still thankful for the one-person exception because it allows him to do smaller odd jobs to keep an income for his business.

“The second we have word (from the state), construction will resume,” Harrietstown’s David said.

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